wipe away any thoughts you had about Jennifer Nettles’s solo debut album That Girl being a continuation of what the talented vocalist does with Sugarland. It’s not that. Instead, she’s worked with iconic Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin to create an album that in many ways shows off that fantastic set of pipes in some interesting and dynamic ways.
The album’s opening tracks “Falling” and “Me Without You” showcase an artist with an introspective perspective on relationships. The self-penned “Falling” finds Nettles singing of the youthful moment you fall into love over some pretty classic melodic structures while the song gradually powers from hushed beginnings to powerful closing moments of the verses and chorus. “Me Without You” finds Jennifer soulfully singing about the freedom of being single after in a longtime relationship and the freedom that that can give a person. It’s soft, it’s elegant and Jennifer Nettles delivers one of 2014’s best vocal performances on the track. This is the kind of song Grammy voters fall in love with.
“Moneyball” is a track that fans of Sugarland will love and something Country radio should be wanting to play. It has a playful melody (which can recall Elton John at times) and a strong lyrics about living life and having fun. The lyrics of the song kind of remind me of Mary Chapin Carpenter with clever verses and a chorus that just gets into your heart and soul. The title track and lead single “That Girl” suggested a slightly different song from Nettles with a “Dancing With The Stars” ready tango backing up a story about a woman who doesn’t want to be the other woman who breaks up a relationship.
The majority of That Girl is an ambitious collection of songs with songs like the powerful ballad “This Angel” feeling like an iconic classic Heart hit the first time one listens to the song (which was written with award-winning songwriter Mike Reid) and then there’s the Richard Marx co-write “Know You Wanna Know,” a playful romp which talks about the wheels of gossip while another Reid co-write, “Good Time To Cry” is apty titled, slice of neo-soul balladry.
Sara Bareilles (“Brave”) is the co-writer of “This One’s For You,” A classic soul-stirring lyrical and vocal showcase while “Jealousy” is another interesting melodic slice of music. The record’s closing song is a cover of Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” but if you expected it to be paint by numbers, you’re sorely mistaken. It’s not so different to make it feel like a completely different song but in the hands of Rubin (no stranger to re-working classic tunes into something stunning) and Nettles it becomes the kind of show-stopping song that suits her powerful vocals, something that works as a fitting closing toThat Girl, an album that my be short on mainstream Country hits but is long on charming vocal performances, stellar lyrics and some of the most timeless feeling new songs I may have heard in the past year or two.